Rating - 3: worth reading once (borrow it from a library)
The contrast between the book and the movie reminds me of Wicked. Someone read it and thought, "This would make a great madcap teen comedy."
Nick is the straight bassist in a queercore band, failing to recover from a breakup with a girl who is haunting him across the city. Norah has her own breakup trauma and Evil Ex, along with a wasted friend and a mixed relationship with Nick's ex. They have a long night together with music, misapprehension, and romance.
The book features dueling chapters, with David Levithan writing Nick followed by Rachel Cohn writing Norah. It is fun to watch them have different perspectives on the same events, such as the bar conversation that, depending on which you ask, is (1) going terribly as they fail to connect with him facily deflecting questions while showing no interest in her, or (2) going perfectly as they are really connecting, even if she is hiding behind questions so she does not need to talk about herself.
He is a simpler character, defined by a few things: bassist, breakup, bad car. She has a web of ambivalent relationships: a father who brought her to the music she loves and who she seeks to escape, enjoying the privilege he provides while scorning its origin; a friend who is a rival for affection, from family and boys, who is a bothersome lush that brings her nothing but trouble and who she loves, protects, and nurtures; an ex who she hates in person, deed, and belief, and with whom she desperately wants to reunite. Her internal monologue is much more nimble. He moves between a few poles. They both have dynamic relationships with Tris.
As with our dear friend Chris Krovatin, it is all about the music. It is a shared bond, an activity to provide story events, a topic for meaningless or highly subtext-laden conversation. This is punk rather than metal, but your reaction to the music still determines whether you are someone worth talking to. Music is so strongly integrated that I expected to hear the book when I put on my headphones.
There is great verisimilitude in detail. The punk-rock Jewish valedictorian of a Catholic school who is mostly straight edge? I knew her in high school. The bit on gay boys making out that veers between feminist theory and "I just think it's hot"? I read her blog.
There is great strength in paragraphs. That one I just mentioned is a gem, and there are many others. Some authors specialize in epigrams and great lines, others in brilliant plots that unfold over hundreds of pages. Here the unit of quality is the paragraph, the moment that is explored, felt, and then gone.
I highly recommend the book, and now I am going to ponder the book and the movie together. Feel free to jump ship.
I saw the movie first. Based on a book summary, I was expecting less madcap teen comedy, more soulful conversation. As each character was introduced in the book, I thought of how they had been miscast (except Dev). I wondered the reasons for dialing the eye candy quotient up on Norah and down on Nick.
And then I realized that the movie was doing something entirely different from the book. As in Wicked, the screen version uses the names and a few plot points to create an entirely different story. This is not Fight Club, putting a new slant on the same theme and events; this is, to say it a third time, something entirely different. I spent the first third of the book scrubbing the movie from my brain so that I could let the words in unobstructed.
Both versions have the speech about the Beatles, "I Wanna Hold Your Hand." Because that is what everyone is looking for, not all the sex and hooking up, just that human connection with someone who is there for you. But the book places it several chapters after Norah first contemplates taking Nick to the bathroom to blow him. The movie eliminates most of the sexual tension, while Norah's chapters are dominated by it.
The vocabulary is another quick example of a difference. One always ponders what to cut to bring a book down to a reasonable movie length. If you cut all the swearing, the book should be short enough.
For what it was doing, the movie did rather well. I thought that Aaron Yoo, Jay Baruchel, and Toney Chem were great in their parts. Nick and Norah, however, were rather shallow characters. Part of my reason for picking up the book was that, while I enjoyed the film, I thought my movie-going companion got much more out of it for having read the book. She knew what was happening behind the two-dimensional representations. Now I wonder if she was continually misled by the characters who had the same names but were different people.